Understanding the Difference Between Public Defenders and Private Attorneys

Movies, television shows, and books portray public defenders as second-class attorneys that are incompetent while private attorneys only care about making money and do not put their clients first. Both of these classifications of attorneys portrayed in entertainment are false. While there is a difference between public defenders and private attorneys, it is not what is shown on television or movies.

Public defenders and private attorneys embarked on their journey of law school, graduated and passed the bar exam. They all have considerable experience to represent clients. The main difference between public defenders and private attorneys is that public defenders are hired as counsel for those people who have no means to hire their own counsel while private attorneys are hired without any approval from the court.

Private attorneys can devote much of their time to a client’s case because they can decide which cases they would like to take on and how many they can handle at a time. It can be more beneficial for the clients to hire private counsel because they can be very selective. They have the ability to interview different attorneys and choose who they think would best represent their case while clients with public defenders do not have this option. Furthermore, a client can change their private counsel at any time if they do not feel the attorney is representing them to the best of their ability while the client cannot discharge their public defender without approval from the Court.

Since public defenders are appointed attorneys for those who do not have representation in court, they typically have 20-40 cases at one time and they cannot focus all their attention on one case but rather split their time between all the cases. Because of this, they can be overwhelmed with their caseload; they may not be able to represent you to the best of their ability. Depending on the resources available to them, they can have less tools and less access to certain resources compared to a private attorney. Since private attorneys have more resources, they can access more important information to better serve their client’s needs.

A public defender may be unwilling to put a lot of time into their cases because they receive little compensation.  A public defender may choose not to investigate every possible defense, and consult with expert witnesses, because their are limitations on their time and resources.  Often is the case where the old adage “you get what you paid for” correctly applies to court appointed representation.  Who you get as a court appointed lawyer is not your choice.  You might be lucky and assigned to someone who cares and has some ability to defend you, or you could end up railroaded.  Court appointed attorneys are also rarely provided for free.  The Defendant is often billed for the services of the court appointed lawyer at the conclusion of the case.

Although public defenders have the same education as private attorneys, there are many more benefits to hiring a private criminal defense attorney. At Hilf & Hilf, PLC, all of our attorneys are dedicated and committed to our clients. If you are in need of representation, contact us for a free consultation.